After a brief hour in the air, the color of the water begins to transform into swirls of turquoise and sapphire and a chain of islands appear. Up until this trip when someone mentions the Bahamas, I instinctively think of Nassau, but now I am beginning to see there are endless hidden gems waiting to be discovered throughout the Bahamas’ 700 islands and cays – and I am about to land on one.
Widely regarded as one of the world’s best boating and fishing destinations, The Abacos are made up of a 120-mile-long island chain. At the center of this chain is Great Abaco Island, which is home to Marsh Harbour International Airport and my destination, Abaco Beach Resort at Boat Harbour. On the cab ride over, the taxi driver explains how Marsh Harbour is considered the city to many of the Out Islands’ residents, as demonstrated by the one traffic light, which by the way is the only one in all the Out Islands! It’s at this point I realize I truly have left my cares behind and I’m officially on island time.
After walking over to my room, I have one goal in mind, get back outside and enjoy the weather! The resort’s private beach and garden pool provide the ideal locations to lounge under a palm tree watching the boats head out island hopping or enter back into the marina with their fresh catches. A short walk alongside the water leads me to the Pool Bar, which serves as the hub of the resort. With a Goombay Smash, a signature specialty drink of The Abacos, and a plate of conch fritters, I am beginning to feel right at home. Judging from the sunglass tan lines on all the guests and boats bobbing in the resort’s marina, it becomes quite clear that to truly experience The Abacos I am going to have to head out on the water, and that’s precisely what I intend to do.
From a ferry system to boat rental or charter captain, there are a number of ways to travel from island to island. The resort staff is able to provide directions and suggestions to boaters and novices alike, customizing the experience to best suit your comfort level. The tranquil Sea of Abaco provides a breathtakingly smooth ride as I make my way over to Hope Town on the beautiful island of Elbow Cay. The famous red and white striped Elbow Reef Lighthouse greets guests as they arrive, as it has since 1862 and stands tall as one of the last manual lighthouses in the world. Whether exploring via golf cart, bicycle or by foot, the charm of Hope Town surrounds visitors. Devoid of tee-shirt shops, street vendors and swarms of tourists the island is reminiscent of Nantucket yet it has a distinct Caribbean feel that makes it unique.
With locally made crafts in hand I hop back on the boat ready to see what’s in store on the next island, but before I arrive one of my traveling companions points out a sea turtle. The sighting is too hard to resist and after a few glances around the boat, we decide it’s time to grab our masks and snorkels and dive in. Beneath the water’s surface lies an underwater oasis of colors and characters. Schools of fish swim past peeking in and out of coral formations and it’s easy to forget the world above. Abaco is home to a number of ancient wrecks, vibrant reefs and mysterious caves, and the crystal waters make exploring such underwater treasures an unforgettable experience for first time snorkelers and seasoned divers.
Back on land our next stop is Man-O-War. As we pull into the marina a beautiful boat catches my eye and it’s no surprise as we’ve now arrived in the “boat building capital of the Bahamas”. The tradition of boat building on Man-O-War dates back to the 1800’s and continues today with the Albury Brothers Boat Works and the craftsmanship of Abaco Dinghies. The man responsible for building the Abaco Dinghies, Joe Albury, gives us a wave as we come off the dock and invites us to take a look through his studio filled with handmade wooden boat models and island gifts. A short walk down the quiet waterfront street (no cars are allowed on this island) leads us to Albury's Sail Shop. Inside smiling women work away crafting canvas goods ranging from bags of different sizes and colors to hats and jackets. While their product has changed from sails to a variety of items, the family-owned business has been operating for three generations.
On my way back to Abaco Beach Resort I spot countless pristine beaches that have surely played host to many afternoon picnics and romantic moments. As we pull into the resort’s marina, I am caught up in the brilliant rays of the sunset until I hear the sounds of music echoing from the Pool Bar. It’s not until I get closer that I realize the musical duo is actually playing a carpenter’s saw to produce a distinct musical styling known as Rake 'n' Scrape. As the band finishes up I finish my day with a delicious meal at the resort’s main restaurant, Angler’s. A bowl of conch chowder, macadamia nut crusted island grouper fillet and key lime pie later and my Out Island adventure has come to a close, until tomorrow.
For more information, please visit www.abacobeachresort.com.